Why does deconstruction scare pastors? Deconstruction, despite contrary reactions, is not a dirty word and should not be viewed as the enemy of the church. In fact, deconstruction is actually what churches have always hoped for congregants – examine their faith for themselves, consider it, dig into it and take ownership of their own beliefs. In a nutshell, they wanted congregants to deconstruct. The presumption, of course, was that the deconstruction process would result in a robust, reconstructed faith, preferably with glaring similarities of their parents and/or pastors. This, by the majority, is not what has been happening in the lives of younger generations.
Lately, though, this deconstruction process has expanded beyond just those younger generations. Adults of all ages and stages are questioning aspects of their faith, churches, and spiritual upbringings in ways they never have before. As they navigate the unknown, many deconstructionists, having their eyes opened to things they never before considered, are asking themselves, “What now?” When speaking of deconstruction, Justin Boothby, founder of Neighbor Collective, had this to say:
One of the biggest reasons why people are deconstructing their faith is because many churches not only failed to provide community, but they failed to provide a SAFE community where people had a voice and felt comfortable asking difficult questions. Instead of “That’s a great question! Let’s talk more about that!” it became “That’s heresy! Be quiet and get back in your place. Stop causing division!” Deconstruction is a result of toxic church cultures and poor theology that cared more about power and image than the people they claimed to serve.
Why does deconstruction scare pastors? One of the issues with the discussion around deconstruction is that pastors have a dog in the fight: it is like asking a meat farmer if you should become vegan. They obviously do not want that; their livelihood is directly affected when people leave the church. However, many deconstructionists do not want churches to die. They would love for the church to flourish, but flourishing requires weeding out that which is harmful.
The assumption that people deconstruct so that they can comfortably justify their own sin deserves consideration, however, it is not true for many. Perhaps these people are reevaluating the truthfulness of things they have been taught are black and white; perhaps they are learning to see shades of gray and deal in nuance. They are tired of judgment with iron fists trumping love. While being critical of so many others, these same people have seemingly sold their soul to Donald Trump, who embodies a host of the “crimes” pastors have pointed out in their messages.
The current state of the American church is the reason saints are deconstructing. The nationalism and rugged individualism, all too commonly preached from American pulpits, add insult to injury. Deconstructionists watched Trump rise to power, spewing racist, xenophobic, fear-mongering propaganda, all while evangelical pastors cheered him on and shouted their support. Many have attended churches with American flags framing the cross on the altar; witnessed the preaching of personal conversion and individual freedom that completely neglects to consider or address communal responsibility or social justice. People are desperately trying to escape the nationalist trappings that plague many American churches today, and deconstruction is one “way of escape.”
The toxic combination of bad teaching and absolute certainty; not merely inaccurate theology, but tight-fisted, arrogant theology that denies all possibility of wrong is a problem for the deconstruction community. One look through the “lifestyle statements” of several Christian organizations: churches, schools, nonprofits, etc., will find they are riddled with words and phrases like infallible, inerrant, certainty, and truth. These statements allowed very little space for differences in understanding, and even less space for the possibility that the writers of these statements might be wrong.
The is the teaching that turns so many people away from the church: not just inaccurate teaching, but dogmatic, arrogant, and conflated teaching. Doctrine that leaves no room for doubt or wonder. Teaching that demands conformity. This dogmatic instruction comes across pulpits almost as often as the stories of pastors leading secret lives of indiscretion. The truth is “ALL have sinned and fallen short.” Where is the grace for the “ordinary” in this radical dogma? Too often, it is non-existent until a leader they respect needs it. In his book, “Deconstructing Evangelicalism,” Jamin Hübner writes,
Deconstruction simply refers to the process of questioning one’s own beliefs (that were once considered unquestionable) due to new experiences, reading widely, engaging in conversations with ‘the other,’ and interacting in a world that is now more connected and exposed to religious diversity than ever before.
Perhaps, deconstruction is not as much about a desire to sin, but a shift in understanding what constitutes sin. Tattoos were once viewed as sinful until someone deconstructed and made them acceptable. Many who are deconstructing are deeply convicted of both their own sin and the church’s collective sin. Deconstructionists are deeply concerned with the way people are treated and the ways the church has failed to love its neighbors. They are burdened at the ways the church has upheld oppressive systems, and the ways it has capitalized on privilege at the direct expense of the more marginalized neighbors. The sins that are harped upon, such as premarital sex, “backsliding,” etc., are not the ones that continuously harm our neighbors.
Why does deconstruction scare pastors? Deconstruction scares pastors because some have reduced Sunday morning to a numbers game. If people deconstruct, they will leave. Perhaps, if faith leaders welcomed the questions instead of taking the easy route by calling deconstruction the enemy of the church, the outcome would be different. Deconstruction is not sinful. Instead, it asserts that human language communicates, not absolute truth, but how a certain individual conceives truth at a certain moment in time, within the contexts of his cultural, political, religious, environmental, and experiential influences.
Deconstruction, for many, is a new world, especially for those who still claim Christianity, but are leaving behind their faith as they have known it thus far. Whether pastors are scared of this new world or excited by it, the good news is that the possibilities are endless. There is wide open space in “Deconstruction-ville”, with plenty of space for exploration. People are now asking God and themselves how they can live more faithfully as Christians now that they have found ourselves in this new place.
Deconstruction may scare some pastors – do it anyway and do it often. Question everything. God is not afraid of your questions. People are because they are afraid to say they do not know. It is okay to find yourself in a place of uncertainty. The Bible has more gray areas than black and white. Keep seeking, learning, unlearning, and growing. The world would never have witnessed the beauty of a butterfly unless the caterpillar was willing to deconstruct. The magic of turning from a caterpillar, to a chrysalis, to a butterfly is messy. Essentially, the caterpillar’s body digests itself from the inside out. All but a few tissues of the old caterpillar are broken down and destroyed as the biological processes that create a butterfly take place.
How should leaders respond to deconstructing Christians? The same way faithful Christians have long responded. Since the church’s earliest days, some have endured faith crises, some have been harmed by sinful cultural influences, some have questioned traditional doctrines and church authorities, and some have departed the faith while others remained. And to each person, whatever their struggle, pastors were and are still called to extend grace (both publicly and behind closed doors).
There are many who still treat “deconstruction” like an enemy, or who will not understand or give grace for the process deconstructionists are going through. They may respond in ways that are hurtful or painful. There always will be people who refuse to understand any deviation from the predetermined path, and for them “deconstruction” might always be a nasty word. Do not let that stop you from exploring this great beyond, from finding God in this new wilderness. After all, the Israelites met God in the wilderness. Jesus did too, and so can you!
Opinion by Blacklisted Saint
Baptist News Global: ‘Deconstruction’ is not a dirty word
Neighbor Collective: Justin Boothby (Founder)
Jamin Hübner: Deconstructing Evangelicalism
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